The Buzz on Bees
A bee sting is no big deal for Stuart Woronecki of Stonewall Apiary.
“I get stung all the time; 10 times a day,” said the Hanover-based beekeeper, who tends to about 350 honeybee colonies in eastern Connecticut and teaches hobbyist beekeepers how to get started.
This is the busy season for Woronecki, as blossoms start to bloom and honeybees become active.
“I once heard a beekeeper say that a single hive needs 15 acres of continually blossoming flowers in the warm season to keep it alive,” said Woronecki. “But you can’t plant any 15 acres that will blossom all summer long, so that’s why honeybees fly up to 5 miles.”
They can actually fly farther than that, he explained, but the effort takes so much energy that they’ll starve to death trying.
More often, bees from a single hive will forage within a couple-mile radius, he said.
Woronecki didn’t start out to be a beekeeper, and in fact has a PhD in music theory and music education. He used to be an elementary school music teacher in the town of Franklin, and later, when he was working on his master’s degree and PhD at the University of Connecticut, taught at UConn.
His interest in honeybees developed at an early age, when he helped an elderly neighbor in Somers, where he hails from.
“There was this neighbor, and he was very old when I knew him. He was born in 1897, and he was a hobbyist who had a small orchard, maybe 12 trees, and a couple of beehives,” said Woronecki.
When the beekeeping neighbor died, his wife offered Woronecki his hives and equipment, but he was in college then and the timing wasn’t right for him. But later, when Woronecki was married, living in Sprague and teaching, he realized beekeeping was a good fit with the academic year. As honeybees were emerging from hives and foraging the first blooms of spring, the school year was winding down.
By about 2000, when Woronecki was working on his PhD, he had about 20 hives. After supplying honey to friends and family, he set up a card table on the side of the road with an honor box for passersby who wanted to buy his honey.
“And then I would take that money and buy more hives with it,” he said.
Today, Woronecki’s hives are all over eastern Connecticut, including at the Coogan Farm Nature and Heritage Center and the Denison Homestead in Mystic, as well as at farms, orchards and some backyards.
The benefit is pollination—the act of transferring pollen grains from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma. Honeybees accomplish pollination through their quest for nectar, when the pollen of one flower sticks to the hairs of the bee’s body and then rubs off on the next one.
Their efforts create rewards for everyone. The farmer gets his crops pollinated which means they will reproduce, the honeybees get nectar, and Woronecki gets the honey.
He’s been at it full time since 2013, when post Great Recession there were fewer academic jobs for him, but an opportunity, he believed, to make a living at beekeeping. Now, in addition to keeping bees, he also supplies live bees to hobbyists, produces queen bees, sells all the necessary beekeeping equipment, and teaches the art of beekeeping.
“There is no one rooting harder for hobbyist beekeepers than Stuart himself,” said Brendan Cholewa of Griswold, one of his students and a passionate beekeeper himself.
“Stuart wants to keep people in beekeeping. He wants to spread the husbandry of beekeeping. He is probably the most intelligent man in Connecticut, maybe New England, when it comes to bees.”
Five years ago, Cholewa decided he wanted to try his hand with a hive of bees. Like Woronecki, he had been introduced to the idea by an elderly neighbor. So, Cholewa learned everything he could about beekeeping on YouTube and bought a hive and bees from Woronecki.
“The learning curve is very steep,” said Cholewa. “Nature can be tough. She’s not always nice. I lost my first hive. Maybe it was mites, but I was devastated. It was like losing a kid.”
He decided to step up his game and he and his wife, Janee, took Woronecki’s class.
“I knew I needed a higher level of teaching,” Cholewa said. “And Stuart covered every topic and challenge. He validated things I was doing right and also my flaws.”
His second season he had two hives and two disasters. The third year, he moved his hives to a friend’s property that he considered a better habitat and upped his hives to three. One of the three survived.
Cholewa has kept at it. He has increased the number of his hives each year, and had more successes and fewer failures. This year, he plans to split one of his hives and introduce a new queen.
“It’s the closest connection and relationship I have ever had with nature other than hunting,” he said. “I can literally watch these bees forever. With no traffic control, they are in sync together to get one goal done. To survive the winter and to continue the colony itself. Individuals will die but the superorganism survives.”
Woronecki is also captivated by bees.
“In the past, I had an observation hive in my office, and I would sit there and I would try to work and I would find myself, even after all these years, just fascinated,” he said.
He has concerns about honeybee health and insect survival.
“Remember when you were a kid driving with your parents and having to pull over and wash the windshield off?” Woronecki asked, adding, “That doesn’t happen anymore.”
It’s a combination of many things, he suspects, but for honeybees in particular there is a parasitic mite called Varroa that infiltrates honeybee colonies and feeds on adult bees and larvae, passing on viruses and destroying colonies. He is doing all he can to keep them at bay, and sharing what he knows with hobbyist beekeepers.
His business has grown through the pandemic as people have looked for more at-home and leisure activities, and his classes continue to be very popular. It’s not a cheap hobby, Woronecki said, explaining it costs about $650 to get started with the proper equipment, protection, hives, and bees.
He traveled to Georgia in March to get 500 packages of bees that he sells to his customers. A package is a wooden box filled with about 10,000 bees. They arrive in the boxes mostly clustered in a ball, around a feeder container of sugar syrup.
Cholewa said when the queen bee is laying eggs, the hive can grow to 60,000 to 70,000 bees.
Typically, there is one queen for each hive and the vast majority of others—about 96 percent—are female worker bees. The drones are male bees.
In the summer, the job of the worker bees is to forage, defend the hive, raise the brood, and take care of the queen. In the winter, they keep the queen fed and warm.
The summertime job of the worker bees is so grueling that their lifespan is about 42 days.
Woronecki is an expert on everything about honeybees and in January 2021, he broke ground on his new Stonewall Apiary headquarters, where he has all his beekeeping supplies, his production facilities, offices, a retail sales shop, and, outdoors, thriving beehives.
In addition to beekeeping paraphernalia, he sells honey, creamed honey, comb honey, and chunk honey, as well as honey butter, beeswax candles, and both a wood polish and hand salve made from beeswax.
Woronecki likes to think of bees as the legs of plants, moving from one blossom to another, doing their mating for them. And, after all these years, he still marvels at the fact that the queen in a hive is the mother of all the bees living and working there.
Honeybees perform something called a waggle dance. It’s a type of figure-eight movement they do to share information about the direction and distance of nectar-filled blossoms and other things with fellow honeybees. Woronecki does his own balancing act, teaching others the ins and outs of beekeeping, of keeping a hive healthy and thriving, of taking just the right amount of honey and leaving enough for the colony to survive, and sharing his passion.
“I just think honeybees are pretty amazing,” he said.